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“Another opinion about a tablet PC, Chris? You only wrote about one last month. What happened – did you break the old one and get another on your insurance?”
No, worse than that – my wife started making noises about really liking my 7” screened Arnova 7 G2, using subtle phrases like “ooh, if only I had one of these” or less subtly “when are you getting me one?” and such like.
Remembering that I’d seen what looked like the entire Arnova (by Archos) range in HMV shops just recently, I was extra pleased to find that the Hereford store had the 10” Arnova 10 G2, reduced from £278 (too near to an iPad for me) to £139. OK, this probably means that there’s a new range in the offing, but the specification of these second-generation Arnova tablets is pretty good. Not only do you get a 1 gigahertz processor in both, but also 8 gigabytes of storage and 512 kilobytes of RAM in each. Storage of either machine can be upgraded cheaply up to a total of 40gigabytes thanks to reasonably-priced microSD cards.
I’VE NOW GOT A TEN INCH ONE
Boasting again. In theory this is starting to look a lot like an iPad in size at least, although its 16:9 proportions still make it less bulky than a 4:3 format iPad. The overall effect is to be left holding a pocket games console or media player that’s popped a few steroids.
The screen is framed by a black brushed metal bezel and the left and right ends have black gloss plastic grips, the left-hand one containing a low-resolution web-camera. It’s on the left hand edge that all of the connections are to be found. Being the larger model, this now includes a full-sized USB port and well as a micro-USB, the microSD card slot, a charger socket (this one doesn’t charge through its USB ports, and a stereo phones jack socket. To complete the physical control panel, you have an on/off push button and a speaker volume rocker switch. There’s a minute ‘reset’ hole on the end for those times when only a complete memory dump will do!
Sensibly, they’ve put the charger and headphones sockets at opposite ends as they’re both the same size, and in the case of the 7” job a bit too easy to think you’re charging it when you’re not. Headphone jacks don’t fit the charger socket, but unfortunately the reverse is not true.
The ‘capacitive’ screen works well although in my opinion it seems to react better to movement such as scrolling or ‘pinching and expanding gestures’ than it does to ‘key presses’. You can load up to five front screens that are reached simply by scrolling sideways. You always have the option of leaving most of your apps in background on one huge bottomless screen, but once you’ve gone past its visible limit, you’d be better employed considering which ones want hoisting to the front. Still at least they are in alphabetical order back there, although you do find you need a good memory for what they are called.
Kindle filed under ‘K’? Nope – It’s Amazon Kindle!
As with its predecessor in our household, Arnova have seen fit to sideline their machines by not giving them access to ‘official’ Google applications, most notably the ability to access the Android Market itself. Their own offering called AppsLib isn’t bad to be honest, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that it isn’t going to let you download Android Market and do itself out of a job any day soon. Fortunately, I’m now an old hand at installing the likes of Market, Gmail and Google Maps manually.
However, because the Arnova range are not registered as Android Market compatible*, many ‘apps’ that you just know are there, still can’t be found even when searches confirm that they exist on The Market. For example, the official Amazon Kindle for Android is listed but fails to materialise when you hit the ‘magnifying glass’ search button. However, as long as you can find the ‘.apk’ file for download elsewhere, none of this really matters too much.
(*I confirmed this by entering the Android Market site via my PC to find that my phones were registered, but my tablets weren’t even known of – they just showed up as ‘the phone used on 12th February’ etc. I’m guessing that since their compatibility can’t be confirmed, the Market holds back from letting you download quite a sizeable number of applications on the grounds that they haven’t been tested and confirmed to work. You can however, ‘google’ just about any app and download it from elsewhere on the web.)
Another niggle concerns some of the applications themselves. For example, the actual Amazon Kindle book reading software appears to work just fine until you realise that the reason why you’re finding it hard making any sense of what you are reading is because the Arnova’s status bar at the top of the screen is shielding the first line of every new page, and there’s no way to put that right with any amount of format options, including the margin settings. Maybe this is why you have a fight on your hands trying to obtain it in the first place! Fortunately generic book readers like Aldiko do work just fine, but won’t handle the Kindle file format without conversion to the more universal ‘e-pub’ format which is a nuisance.
Likewise, I’ve had to do a fair bit off of cruising around the forums to find out what version* of Skype I need to make it work with the web-cam – the current version sure as hell only works with speech!
(*Nerdy note: You need version 126.96.36.199 for rear-facing, or rather, single cameras)
Other moans? Well, it’s a good job I didn’t pay full price as I’d have been a bit upset by a machine that, when updating the firmware, wipes the ‘build’ out, even the apps supplied by Arnova like Appslib, which then renders it rather difficult to get back to normal. I wouldn’t mind but the update, which you are urged to check for before going too far down the road of using the tablet, turned out to be the same one as was installed – it was dated December 2011 on their web-site but put back the same October 2011 version when I checked afterwards. Going from experience gained from the other Arnova, I now keep the relevant .apk files on a memory stick, including Appslib and access to Dropbox, my ‘cloud solution’ for storing the rest of the build.
Oh yes, and why, when they put one on the Arnova 7 G2, have they seen fit not to fit a prop to this one so that it can be sat on an airline table and watched without having to hold up its somewhat heavier bulk?
Throughout these ‘tribulations’ you just have to keep reminding yourself of the current price, at around 33% that of an iPad.
One minor niggle is purely cosmetic. All the plastic used is black and shiny, so you can imagine that the back, which comes in for a lot of fingering is covered in fingerprints. The screen needs frequent cleaning with a soft cloth, especially after typing and prior to watching a movie although all tablets suffer from this – it’s just that it’s more obvious the larger the screen.
There are four of the shallowest rubber feet imaginable on the rear, which makes it very easy to get it scratched at the back on even the slightest ‘lumpy’ surface. A case is recommended.
NIFTY BITS AND TWEAKS
Whilst this list is somewhat shorter, it partly makes up for some of the foregoing. For example, the USB port seems to be slightly more highly ‘specced’ than that of its little brother, as, not only can it accept full-sized USB devices** without the use of a clumsy adapter, but it can definitely accept a keyboard and mouse, including wireless, but not Bluetooth as there’s no way to ‘pair the devices’. This has led me to buy a smart little ‘after-market’ pouch doubling as a keyboard and prop, all for a very reasonable £11! Such is the similarity to a net book that I’m beginning to question whether my Acer net-book couldn’t be put out to pasture for a few quid on e-Bay or Gumtree or whatever. I never did need its hard drive, just its dinkiness.
(**Nerdy note: It can’t accept external drives formatted as NTFS – only FAT and FAT32 seem to work)
Compared to the netbook, battery duration is excellent, about as good as a typical smart-phone, i.e. ‘all day’ depending on your usage or several days of occasional use. It doesn’t take too long to boot back up again, so why not switch it off anyway? The percentage loss of charge, if left off overnight, seems to be countable on the ‘fingers of one hand'.
There are plenty of forums to join, all bursting with even more nerds than you can shake a memory-stick for a bit of self-help and some have even links to a re-written operating system to give more comprehensive access to the tablet. These include an improvement to the list of external drives so that they’ll accept to include disks
Pictures of ARNOVA 10 G2 4 GB
formatted to the NTFS format, and lengthening the list of internet dongles that will be seen as ‘plug and play’.
Well they are quite literally too many to mention, but there are one or two utilities I wouldn’t do without, now that I’ve got them.
One is the Battery Widget which gives you a neat little % indicator on the upper status bar. Since the Appslib is an ‘unapproved source’ of apps, the option to block the loading of unofficial software has been removed from the operating system, so it may well be a good idea to employ an anti-virus utility to give all incoming data the ‘once over’. Good old AVG Free version to the rescue!
Also useful, when out and about is the Wifi Analyzer which gives a clear indication of signal strength and channels whenever there’s a choice to be made. It can also be used like a Geiger Counter to find the best place for your own router – it even ticks like one!
This unit does not contain any GPS capability, even when routed through a ‘smart’ phone, so the Google Maps are what they say they are, just maps, albeit retaining their search facilities for the area on screen.
Browsing using standard web pages is do-able, particularly in landscape, which is only to be expected on something with a screen that wouldn’t disgrace a netbook.
Some apps, like BBC News will only play in portrait mode.
When using an external keyboard, the on-screen version doesn’t take the hint and make itself scarce, although on occasions you can ‘gesture it’ to go away (no not that gesture!) which means that despite being let loose on a ‘real’ keyboard, you still only sometimes get half a screen to type in!
Being somewhat larger than the sturdy little 7” version, but no thicker, it’s a little ‘creaky’, in stark contrast to an iPad which feels like it’s hewn from a solid block of material. I did mention that the latter costs three times more though didn’t I?
SO WHAT’S IT GOOD FOR?
To a certain extent it depends on what apps you download and what you pay for them. For example, the free version of OfficeSuite allows you to read MS-Office compatible documents, spreadsheets and presentations along with .pdf files. The paid-for version (all of £6.50) allows you to create them too.
All kinds of media over an impressive range of file types can be played from mp3 music files through to mp4 video files and a whole load of others in between, including picture formats. Oh yeah, it makes quite a good digital photo frame (well it would do if it had a prop!)
It’s fine as a book reader as long as you don’t want to run the Kindle app.
It’s great for accessing your e-mail whilst away from home, subject to wi-fi availability. You’ll need to know your settings before you go away though, with the exception of G-Mail which is separate.
It surfs well, and I’ve downloaded the mobile version of Firefox so that I can keep my favourites in ‘sync’ with home. Opera works well as does the built-in browser.
In conclusion I’d have to say that it’s great value for money at its current price, but at its old RRP of £278, it would have a lot of competition. For £140, it punches well above its weight, just so long as you’re not expecting an iPad on the cheap. Likewise, be prepared to do a little self-help, like joining